There are hundreds of companies around the globe working toward designing an eVTOL that could be used by the general public as a means to get around. But U.K. company Urban-Air Port is not one of them.
“We’re not developing an air taxi or a drone; we don’t even fly them,” said company founder and executive chair Ricky Sandhu. Instead, “What we do is provide the ground and air infrastructure for them to safely take-off and land and fulfill their air services journey.”
Sandhu noted, “There’s no point to making up a certified [eVTOL] and have nowhere to land. So, we’re kind of doing that grunt work up front.”
Urban-Air Port is an advanced air mobility (AAM) infrastructure company focused on building vertiports, where eVTOLs will be able to take-off, land, get charged and have maintenance work done as needed, while passengers and cargo can also be processed in a quick and efficient manner.
The company is planning to construct around 200 vertiports around the world over the next five years, with Air One as its first operational prototype set to launch on April 25 after just 11 weeks of construction.
Sandhu said the facility is designed “in a way that we can disassemble it so that if suddenly there was a need for it to move because the industry is still fledgling as a whole … we’ve got something that doesn’t take 20 years to build and design.”
He said the key part of the company’s vertiport design is its integrated technology, which allows the facility to scale up or down depending on where it will be located.
The facility will be opening its doors to dignitaries and industry leaders, but equally important will be the opportunity for regular citizens to come out and have a look, Sandhu said.
“For the first time, people can walk off the street and be welcomed in a new type of future transportation infrastructure and get up close — not only to the process that he or she would go through, but also to the vehicles that they will ultimately be able to fly in,” he said. “That’s going to be really important just from a public acceptance … [and] public perception point of view.”
The facility was constructed in the city centre of Coventry, England, which Sandhu said is a key factor in its function, being adjacent to the main line railway station, with easy access to arterial roads and highways.
“That’s the kind of location you need to have for this infrastructure,” Sandhu said. “It needs to be accessible from other modes of transport, because AAM and urban air mobility (UAM) won’t replace an existing mode of transport. The idea, and the way it can be used best, is to take the load off some of those existing modes of transport and add a complementary new layer of mobility.”
He said that whether by walking, cycling, or driving, people will still need to get to Air One.
That’s why there are four quick charge stations for electric vehicles outside, and the building itself is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.
“It’s all about having a sustainable, seamless, zero-emission journey, and in order for that to happen, you’ve got to have the infrastructure in place,” he said.
When asked why environmental sustainability and having zero carbon emissions are so important to him and his company, Sandhu replied, “It should be important to all of us.”
He noted that for 16 years, he worked as an architect, and designed many cities and buildings.
“One thing that frustrated me when I was doing that was that a lot of money, time, and investment goes into the building, but very little innovation, time and money went into the bits in between the buildings — the roads, [which are] much more polluting than the buildings.”
So, Sandhu decided to refocus his efforts on creating opportunities for more environmentally friendly transportation — as well as just more opportunities for transportation, period.
“In some parts the world, they don’t have roads or the basic infrastructure, so they then spend more time traveling to try and make money, as opposed to actually making money,” he said. “So, if you can provide that connectivity, you’re immediately spreading social equity, and that’s another thing that we believe strongly that AAM can provide.”
Of course, for Urban-Air Port’s vertiports to be successful, they must actually serve the needs of the eVTOL aircraft that would be using them.
“It’s a matter of keeping in lockstep with the vehicle development and making sure the infrastructure is there,” Sandhu said. “We’re focusing on the bigger players … the ones that we know are on the right track to certification.”
To that end, Hyundai’s Supernal is one of Urban-Air Port’s preferred original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners, which Sandhu said, “gave us a lot of good stuff, good constraints to work with.”
Ultimately, “Our goal has always been to be agnostic. So, if you need a battery swap for your vehicle, we will be able to cater for that, once we know exactly what the requirements are. If you’re a plug-in vehicle, we can cater for that. Even if you’re part hydrogen, we can cater for that, too,” Sandhu said.
The variety of aircraft Air One will be able to accommodate will be highlighted at the April 25 event. Supernal will have its air taxi there, and the West Midlands Police Force and Malloy Aeronautics, which has collaborated with the U.K. Armed Forces, will also be on site. Sandhu confirmed helicopters will not be included in the day’s demonstrations.
Furthermore, there will not be any eSTOL developers, as that is not Urban-Air Port’s main focus at the moment.
“For the moment, we’ve been focused on eVTOL and trying to get those guys up and running. As that beds in, we can absolutely turn our attention to some of the other emerging technologies as well, and see how that fits in,” Sandhu said, noting it’s something they’ve already started discussing with some providers, and that Hyundai recently announced they are also looking at developing a long-range eSTOL.
Of course, for Urban-Air Port to be available to serve Supernal and other companies in the future, it has to focus on building its financial foundation now.
Sandhu said the U.K. government partially funded the Air One program in Coventry.
“They’ve … recognized that there’s a lot of money in investment going into the aircraft and the systems, but without the ground infrastructure systems and the air infrastructure systems, a lot of investment could well be wasted.”
Urban-Air Port’s Series A to raise capital is on right now.
“We’re hoping to get that closed by July,” Sandhu said.
While trying to line up the funding on a macro level is important, Sandhu said those involved in the AAM sector should be careful not to lose sight of who will ultimately be using it.
“If prices aren’t super-expensive, then that makes the industry more accessible to a greater number of people … which then helps the entire industry take off,” Sandhu said.